Monday, June 30, 2008


This is my week to dream, to use my imagination, to get out of the weekly grind that my job can get me into if I’m not careful. I get to engage the artist role a bit more if I work things right. It’s started off well so far; early morning on the beach with two layers of the inside of my mouth scalded with Starbucks. It’s going to be a good one. I’ve already seen an eagle glide across the beachfront. The ferries have their snow covered backdrops in place and the sun is promising 80 degrees today. It’s going to be a good one.
The usuals are here, catching busses and the morning news. One guy even came right out of bed, pajama shorts and furry slippers. I have to wonder about his judgment. After all, furry slippers and 80 degrees? Tall people, short people, espresso people, chai teas and frappucinos are all represented this morning. There are writers and readers, those on their way to work and those with work being the furthest from their minds…. And then there’s me.
I’m just around to observe for awhile. It’s not really work, although I do get to employ it as work once in awhile. It keeps my mind fresh and encourages my creativity which helps my teaching role. It helps to develop some observational practices, which could help my counselor role. It gives me a few moments of balance and down time, which will definitely help to keep me from killing someone this week. Imagination is the key. Otherwise it’s just another cup of coffee with a great view.
This is the week that I get to imagine what it might be like to be that dog that just wandered by with it’s human in tow. I wonder if he’s really as embarrassed as he should be about that haircut. I wonder what was going through his human’s mind when she paid for that haircut. I wonder if the guy at the window, scribbling in his notebook everyday, some famous author that I should know…. Or maybe he’s just writing down observations about me? Is the lady in the comfy corner chair that much into the daily news or is she just passing time? I wonder if it was a good morning in this young moms house, or did she have to “count to three” to encourage her little dark curly haired cutie to put her shoes on and get out the door on time.
I wonder how many of the people filing onto the metro are excited to start another week and how many are just “doing time” till something better comes along. I wonder if the guy at the ATM is satisfied with his balance or is he panicking over how to balance his balance. I wonder how many “weather” jokes and basketball questions this extremely tall guy has had to endure every week. Does he wish he were 5 foot 10 as often as I wish I were 6 foot 10? What made that woman think that her dress was a good idea ? Is that guy really that confident in his pink shirt? What are these people doing with cut off ski poles? Did that old couple really intend to match this morning, even down to the hats? How bad would an extra donut be for me? Are any of these people wondering if their life matters? Do they worry about dying? Have they even been able to enjoy the view, or are they too consumed with life?
Every once in awhile I get a chance to step off the train and just watch it go by. I can leave my baggage behind and hope that it never does make the destination with me. It’s great therapy. I highly recommend it. It’s not a long exercise, a few hours at most. The only thing you need to bring with you is your imagination.

Friday, June 27, 2008


I followed my daughter down to her shift at that “other” coffee company this morning. Life has kept me off schedule this week, way off in fact. It’s usually the other end of the week that I’m writing this blog. I’m okay with it which is a sign of growth for me. I’m at the “other” place staring at the label on my grande’ drip. It tells me that the cup I’ve just invested in is 100 percent compostable. This cup is one of the main reasons that I changed back to Starbucks in the first place. Well, actually not this one, but the original one that I bought way back when, only to discover that compostable meant that it would begin to become compost even before I reached my table to enjoy it. I’m not exaggerating. It began to disintegrate and leak profusely even as I was sitting down. Now I’m as “green” friendly as the next guy here in the Northwest, but for someone as cheap as I am, trying to stretch a cup of coffee over a 2 hour time span, this was very alarming. I think that they’ve worked a bit to improve it a bit since then. The half life of a cup is now up to about 45 minutes. Still the label brings back bad dripping memories.
That’s the way it is with labels isn’t it. Someone or something puts a label on, thinking it’s the answer to all of life’s difficulties, only to discover that the label may create even more difficulty. Take for example, a certain pizza empire that I used to deliver for. It’s label said “30 minutes or less”. This seemed to be an answer for the impatience of the American consumer. What it said to others who may have actually appreciated a quality pizza was that speed trumps taste. I used to see a sign in my previous place of residence that read “free manure”. That must have been good news to some, but to my way of thinking, coming from a fairly public profession, I had more than my share dumped at my doorstep every week. I certainly didn’t need to stop and pick more up.
Labels are a professional hazard for me in my role as a pastoral artist. It’s the main reason I came up with the term “pastoral artist” in the first place. That’s correct, lest you see the term somewhere else in a book selling millions, I came up with the designation first. In fact I’m the only one in existence as far as I know. A friend asked me a while back, “What the H… is a pastoral artist? I really have no idea. I made it up. It has something to do with me being a pastor focused around the creative ability of the Creator and those He created. I see it as my role to reconnect the Creator with everything and everyone created. Kind of a broad job description, I’ll admit. I came up with it because the label “pastor”, while well intentioned to some, is a barrier to many, not unlike “compostable cups”. I don’t even like many who wear the label. I respect them, I just don’t like them….much….but to be fair, they wouldn’t appreciate me much either.
I have attached “artist” to pastor because, first of all, I am one….when I get the chance. Secondly, it’s leveling. While pastor says one thing to people, artist says the opposite. When one thinks artist, it’s not generally in the context of middle class, conservative haircut, SUV driving, Republican, and angry. I am none of those for the most part, but yet I could be if I wanted to be. No two artists are the same, nor is their art. You just get to stand back and objectively utter “hmmmmmmmm”. It’s a bit more liberating.
Labels aren’t generally helpful. I still struggle not being bound to them. I’d rather live life according to the beliefs that I own and let that be reflected in my actions. I’d rather have conversations with people and get to know them beyond their fabricated images. Everyone has worth and value that tends to be obscured by an inaccurate message. The reality is, the coffee at this “other” place, never changed, and improvements have even been made to the cup. I’m just having a hard time with the label.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


I’ve always heard it said, when considering your past, that “you can’t go back”. I’ve never really been totally sold on that concept, at least as it might apply in my own life. Now, to be sure, I would agree that things change from your past the moment you leave the past. People die, property is sold, relationships pass, almost immediately. My wife and I certainly have had our share of past lives, living as we have in various parts of the country. My wife has been the most affected by whatever we haven’t been able to go back to. She puts roots down deep wherever she is planted, and when those roots get pulled up, so does a lot of other stuff, and things are never the same again. Still, I don’t think that it’s a universal principal. I don’t think that everything gets changed by time. Sometimes I think that the “you can’t go back” concept was created by people who wanted to run away in the first place. It was an excuse to not even attempt going back. It was the reason that they never made the effort to hold on to previous relationships.
I just came back from going back, if you can follow what I mean. I’m back from a 10 day trip back to my previous and one time original place of existence in upstate New York. I’m back from going back. It’s kind of fitting as I’m back on the beach, but looking out the window with our own Statue of Liberty in the foreground and the Space Needle in the background. I’m still processing the trip, still contemplating the “can’t go back” theory. Things have changed to be sure. People have died, property has been sold, relationships have passed. But on the other hand, some things don’t change all that much. They still don’t really know a good coffee experience. I went to the one stand alone Starbucks not associated with the mall or the university and it was a sorely disappointing experience. I don’t think those baristas could even spell Seattle, let alone know what it stands for. They do know doughnuts though. There was a Dunkin Donuts on every single corner of every single town. It might account for the unbelievable number of cops encountered along the way.
We did spend moments when we were able to really be “back”. There is still nothing like sitting on a giant front porch in Mallory watching the world go by. Boldt Castle is still majestically sitting on its Island in the middle of the St. Lawrence River. Summer is still humid and the sweat still finds its way down my back and into my shorts. Finger Lakes wine is still as good as it gets and a chocolate soft-serve ice cream with chocolate sprinkles from a road side stand will always be a reason to brake. The Carrie and Derik that I married were still the Carrie and Derik that I first encountered as middle schoolers. Our best man, who we haven’t seen in 20 years, was still the same guy we grew up with. Certainly we are all more refined and experienced. There’s more gray and more stories as to how the gray got there, but the same spirit resides there.
This morning I’ve come back from going back. Some things have even changed here in this short time. There are 2 new baristas and a few changed seats in here. A new dog is waiting patiently for a new owner and my blueberry coffee cake is off the menu. I have my chair though and the coffee is better than I remember. All is right with the world at the moment; of course I haven’t been to the office yet. It’s good to be back.

Monday, June 09, 2008


There’s a little blond haired cutie wobbling around here this morning. He’s got that bow legged, pants full of diaper waddle, wandering from person to person amidst thoughts ranging from “isn’t he cute” to “where the heck is this kids parents”. From where I’m sitting, the little guy is an orphan. I assume a parent is somewhere in the place, hidden behind a couch or this music display featuring Neil Diamond and Carly Simon releases. To think that I’ve lived long enough to see them cool again….
Anyway, back to the youngster. It doesn’t seem that fear is in his vocabulary yet. Neither is discretion. He goes from one conversation to another, one table to another, not merely willing to be a spectator. He’s hitting, poking and conversing as he goes. It’s interesting to watch this interchange. You can instantly tell who amongst us has children, and who will be sticking with dogs. Some avoid him as if even the minutest of contact will turn them into one of him, while others openly engage him in face making games. He doesn’t discriminate though. One or the other, ignore him or engage him, he is making his own amusement.
I wonder what he’ll grow up to be. At what point, if any, will he lose that sense of adventure? Phil Collins is singing about “Throwing it all Away” in my headphones. I’ve seen so many do that in their lifetime. Will he be one of them, or will he take that same spirit that propels his diapered butt all over Starbucks this morning and lead others to adventure? At the same time, in regards to his Dad, who has suddenly emerged, I’m wondering if I’m watching a parental genius in action or someone to be judged as “too permissive”, clueless even. I walk the line between envy for the future that he has with him, and sympathetically remembering the mistakes I made as a dad to my own little diapered explorers.
I remember those days, though it was a long time ago, not as far back as Carly Simon and Neil Diamond to be sure, but still long ago. I remember little padded butts waddling optimistically around the rooms. I remember peek-a-boo games with strangers in the next booths. I’m sure of the “where the heck is this kids parents” moments”. Despite my best efforts and pathetic attempts, my kids have grown. They have their own personalities and dreams. They have their own faults and they have their own strengths. They are who they are, in large part, because of an accumulation of these types of Starbucks moments and opportunities to explore the world. Each one mattered. Each one counted. Each one accumulated to the greater sum of who they became. Some I understood and embraced fully and others I fell victim to the clueless dad syndrome. Most of their good qualities I attribute directly to their mom, most of their bad I can honestly see as mirrors of myself, but all of their qualities, good and bad, make up the whole of who they’ve become, and I wouldn’t trade a minute of it.

Monday, June 02, 2008


There’s a little dog outside on the sidewalk this morning. It’s one of those little fox like puff balls, a Pomeranian I think, that get all excitable and yippy when their human comes near. This one is no exception. He/she, I can’t tell, has been staring, straining, longingly, almost painfully towards the doors since being tethered to the little green fence post a few moments ago. The only thing distracting focus from the door is when indigo hair guy stoops down and acknowledges the hyper little prince/princess.
When the door opens again and the human appears, the excitement is pretty much uncontainable. I’m not sure which one has had their morning caffeine already. It’s quite obvious where the allegiance lies. Now that I think of it, there’s no lacking in obvious behavior around here this morning. The furry beast and its human are obvious in their relationship. Older guy is painfully obvious in his establishing contact with younger woman. Old couple is obvious in their desire to preserve their morning ritual of being together yet quite separate. Metro bus driver is obvious in his attempt to take advantage of a stop equipped with public toilets. News paper lady is obvious in her desire to become engrossed in the daily dose of what passes for news in this town. And here I am, obvious in my, hidden behind my laptop, headphone encased, desire to escape the world. It’s neither wrong nor right; it just is what it is.
All of it, day after day, week after week, spent down here in my judgment seat in the corner, leads me to believe that just maybe, despite all of our attempts to the contrary, our motives and behaviors become quite obvious to those who take the time to observe them. I don’t mean in clinical, psychoanalytical, that’ll be $200 and we’ll schedule you for next week, kinds of observations that drive our professional economy. I think that I mean the, I’ll invest a bit in your life because I care, kinds of interactions that our social economy is lacking.
Professionally speaking, as a pastoral artist, I wonder what would happen if I observed those in my “community o’ faith” with the same interest and scrutiny that I give my fellow Starbucks inhabitants? It’s not that I don’t care, or don’t intend to. Our interchanges don’t tend to lend themselves to this. Usually when I see them, they’re on their “Sunday best” behavior. I don’t have nanny cam to see them in their own reality shows. Granted, I don’t have the time it would take to get to the level of investment where the hidden becomes obvious in all of the people I interact with, but someone needs to. If friendships and relationships were more a place of investment, perhaps we wouldn’t be investing as much in our counselors, therapists, and life coaches. I’m not desiring to be trivial in this, because I fully acknowledge the need for some, maybe even many, to employ professional help. But I would also put forth that many of us just need a real friendship. We need to experience time consuming, caring relationships that take effort, and observation, where needs are acknowledged and met, where the hidden becomes obvious.